iPhone 12 review: If you’re looking for a solid phone at a lower price, this remains a great buy
iPhone 12 offers some incredible upgrades compared to its predecessor, something that’s quickly forgotten in the years that’ve passed since it first launched. If you’re choosing between an iPhone 11 or iPhone 12, trust us, the latter is a much, much better pick.
Even when compared with the phones that Apple has launched in the years since the iPhone 12, this years-old handset still stands toe-to-toe with its successors. The modern, flat-edged design has remained the same, as has the 5G download speeds and edge-to-edge OLED display …something we bemoaned in our iPhone 13 review and iPhone 14 review.
Those with medically-diagnosed butterfingers will be happy with the iPhone 12, since this is the first handset with Apple’s Ceramic Shield strengthened glass protecting the front and rear of the handset. With an IP68 rating, iPhone 12 can be submerged in 20ft (6 metres) of water for half an hour without the need to leave your phone in a bag of rice overnight.
In fact, our only real criticisms of the iPhone 12 are the measly 64GB entry-level storage, and the fact that you’ll likely end up with a bigger Apple Store bill after you buy yourself a new USB-C charging plug and wired earbuds as these aren’t included in the box (you won’t find these inside the box with the newer iPhone 13 or iPhone 14, either). If you can secure one of the best iPhone 12 deals, you’ll be able to pocket an iPhone 12 with 128GB for less than its successor (despite the best iPhone 13 deals significantly dropping the price of that handset in the wake of the iPhone 14 release too).
Aside from these small nitpicks, iPhone 12 remains an Apple phone that’s almost impossible to fault.
iPhone 12 review
On paper, iPhone 12 is the follow-up to the iPhone 11. But honestly, this brilliant handset has much more in common with the pricier iPhone 12 Pro than its predecessor. When Apple launched iPhone 11 back in September 2019, there were some substantial differences between it and the more expensive “Pro” line-up, which cost around £300 extra.
With the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro, that all changed. In fact, the iPhone 12 enjoys almost all of the same goodies as its pricier sibling.
Last year, iPhone 11 out-sold the iPhone 11 Pro and we’d be surprised if that changed with the latest line-up from Apple. But in 2020, those who buy the more affordable iPhone 12 will be getting an almost identical experience – from the gorgeous OLED display, to the cameras with improved low-light performance, and superfast 5G support – as those paying the extra for the “Pro” model.
iPhone 12 launches alongside an iPhone 12 mini and a costlier iPhone 12 Pro
New Design & Display
Apple has totally refreshed the design of the new iPhone 12 with a look that’s reminiscent of the older, and much-loved, iPhone 4. That means the curvaceous soft edges found on iPhone 11 have been replaced with a sharper and more angular chassis. On the back, there’s the same glossy glass finish with a square-shaped camera bump fitted with two lenses.
We really like the look of the iPhone 12 with its solid build and all-glass finish making it feel as premium as that £799 starting price deserves.
However, although we’ve been left pretty smitten, we have a feeling it might divide opinions as the flat sides can make it a little harder to grip. Thankfully, the softer curves of the iPhone 11 are still available to buy at a cheaper price from the Apple Store if you’re not keen on the new look.
iPhone 12 has aged beautifully and remains a brilliant buy in 2022 …just make sure to avoid base model with a measly 64GB of storage
One thing that everyone is sure to love is the new Super Retina XDR display, which now includes OLED technology and much thinner bezels – resulting in a smaller iPhone in your pocket, despite it keeping the same 6.1-inch screen size. The LCD panel (what Apple’s marketing department calls “Liquid Retina”) and chunkier borders around the screen found on iPhone 11 were our least favourite part of that handset and so it’s nice to see Apple has upgraded things this time around.
iPhone 12 comes in a number of different case colours and an improved OLED screen
This new 6.1-inch touchscreen is impossible to fault. Compared with last year, it can show content at a much higher resolution with improved contrast and nearly twice the peak brightness than before. There’s also native support for Dolby Vision and HDR10 which means watching a movie or bingeing on a box set has never looked better.
If you wanted a screen as good as this on your iPhone last year, Apple charged you a minimum of £999.
Like most Apple products, the screen includes True Tone technology, which subtly adjusts the white balance to match the colour temperature of the room around you. In a nutshell, it means the screen should always appear less harsh – or blue – on your eyes when working in dingier rooms.
Apple has totally refreshed the design of the new iPhone 12 with a look that’s reminiscent of the older, and much-loved, iPhone 4
Thankfully, this massively-upgraded display is also much stronger, thanks to the addition of a new glass that Apple is calling “Ceramic Shield”, which it claims has four times better drop performance than iPhone 11.
The rear glass panel has also been toughed up and hopefully, it will now be far less prone to smashing should you drop it on the floor – always a high-risk on any smartphone with glass on the front and back!
Thankfully, we haven’t had any accidents with our review unit, so it’s hard to tell just how much better “Ceramic Shield” will be at surviving a fall. However, expect endless YouTube videos over the coming weeks which will no doubt reveal whether Apple’s claims are true.
Processor & Performance
For years, iPhone has been the King when it comes to smartphone power and Apple says its new model takes things to a whole new level. iPhone 12 is fuelled by the A14 Bionic chip and we’re guessing that the average user will never get close to maxing out what these brains are capable of.
At the time iPhone 12 launched, this was the fastest chip in any smartphone ever. Of course, as noted in our iPhone 13 review, this has been superseded by the brilliant chip architecture teams at Apple.
A14 Bionic remains the first system-on-a-chip in an iPhone built using a 5nm process, which means Apple is packing all of the brains into a much smaller chip. This means there’s less travel involved in every procedure, which uses less power and keeps things speedy. Not only that, but the four-core Apple-designed GPU offers a slick experience when playing high-performance games, multi-tasking with numerous apps open at the same time, and editing 4K video.
The iPhone 11 was already supremely powerful, but the A14 Bionic chip is going to make the iPhone 12 a very tough device to beat. While that’s great news for anyone hoping to edit video, play the latest games and open vast Photoshop images on-the-go… for the rest of us, it really means that Apple should be able to continue supporting iPhone 12 with the latest features and software updates for years and years to come.
In fact, Apple has confirmed that iOS 16 – the latest version of the mobile operating system, scheduled to launch in autumn 2022 with a redesigned Lock Screen, improved Siri dictation and redesigned Home app to control smart lightbulbs and unlock your car – will be compatible with iPhone 12. So those who buy an iPhone 12 today won’t miss out on any features.
iPhone 12 performance is brilliant, thanks to the A14 Bionic. And expect iOS updates for years
But while the performance of the A14 Bionic promises to endure for years, what will not last very long is the amount of available storage on your new iPhone.
Sadly, Apple continues to start the range with just 64GB of internal storage, which is way too low. Shooting 4K video footage will munch through this storage in no time and you could find yourself needing to delete files to download iOS updates or take new photos.
Almost all Android phones now ship with a minimum of 128GB, but you’ll need to pay £70 extra to get that vital boost. Of course, you can subscribe to iCloud storage to keep your all-important family photos in the cloud – saving space for games on your iPhone – but that quickly becomes an expensive extra tax each month.
If you want even more storage, iPhone 12 can be purchased with 256GB but this will set you back an extra £147 over the entry-level model. As always, our advice is to buy the biggest memory you can afford as this will future-proof the phone and save you the pain of endlessly freeing up space on the device.
There’s a dual-lens camera on the rear case
The new iPhone 12 features a similar camera set to last year with a dual-lens system placed on the rear case. This camera, which is powered by the A14 chip, offers the usual Ultra Wide and Wide shots along with Night and Portrait modes.
As with the last year’s iPhone 11, this new device will take some great shots without you having to think about the settings which is exactly what most people want from their phones. Photographs shot on the 12 all look pin-sharp and packed with detail and it’s hard to get things wrong when using this camera.
The biggest change in 2020 is that the Ultra Wide lens now includes an f/1.6 aperture which delivers a 27% improved low-light performance.
You can also use Apple’s clever Night Mode with this wider lens which is a nice addition when shooting low-light landscapes.
If movies are your passion then the new camera can now record in Dolby Vision which captures 60x more colours. The iPhone 12 Pro can also edit encoded Dolby Vision videos right on the device, which has never been possible until now.
There’s also some impressive image stabilisation for a smooth look to your films and there are the usual slow-motion, panorama, and Time Lapse modes. The iPhone 12’s camera isn’t a dramatic update but this is a solid device for taking photos and you’ll have few complaints after hitting the shutter button.
iPhone 12 Night Mode selfie camera test v iPhone 11
iPhone 12 camera test
iPhone 12 camera test
Battery Life & MagSafe Charging
iPhone 11 was no slouch when it came to battery life and we’re happy to report that iPhone 12 is following in its footsteps. We’ve easily got through a day without needing to go near a plug and, depending on your usage, you could find yourself well into a second day with power to spare.
We’ve been running numerous battery tests, including a 7-hour Star Wars trilogy marathon with the iPhone 12 still having over 50% in the tank after all three movies were played – now that is impressive!
When things do run low, iPhone 12 includes wireless and wired fast-charging. But this year, there’s a new addition with the introduction of a MagSafe charger. This clever cable snaps to the back of the case using magnets and offers faster wireless charging speeds. It does cost an extra £39, but it’s worth investing if you want the best wireless charging experience for your shiny new phone. It’s worth noting that the speedy wireless charging speeds are only available with Magsafe, which is a limit put in place by Apple.
Although there are plenty of fast-wireless chargers stocking the shelves on Amazon, iPhone 12 will revert to the slower speeds when placed on one of these – so don’t bother buying one.
MagSafe lets you snap a charger to the back of the iPhone 12, as well as accessories like a wallet
Another thing you’ll need to remember is that iPhone 12 doesn’t ship with a charger. Yes, Apple has removed the white power plug in a bid to reduce electronic waste and also to cut down on the size of the packaging that it needs to ship its devices across the globe.
It does make a lot of sense as most people have enough chargers littering the drawers in their homes, but one thing you might find a little annoying is the charging cable that now comes bundled with the iPhone 12.
Apple has included a USB-C to Lightning port, which means the new cable in the box with iPhone 12 won’t fit with any of the plugs bundled with your previous iPhones, which were always USB-A. So, if you’ve got a frayed charging cable, don’t think you’ll be able to swap the cable for the new one in the iPhone 12 box and continue using your old plug. You’re going to need to buy a new one.
Of course, the new USB-C cable that comes with the iPhone does offer faster-charging speeds via Apple’s improved 20-watt plug and, if you own a MacBook or iPad Pro you can now charge your iPhone with the much faster USB-C charging brick that ships with these devices.
Just be aware that you might end up heading back to the Apple Store and adding a £19 plug to your shopping basket. Oh, and while you’re there – you might want to pick up a pair of £159 AirPods too as Apple has dropped the wired Lighting connector headphones from the box too.
iPhone 12 offers access to the fastest mobile data speeds in the UK via 5G
Yes, Apple is now joining its Android rivals and bringing 5G data speeds to all of its new iPhones. It’s a good move from the US firm and it’s also nice to see every device getting this fast network technology – not only the most expensive models in the range.
Samsung has followed a different path. It sells 4G-only and 5G versions of its top-end devices, with those without 5G costing less. That means you might save some money if you’re living in an area with 5G, but does make the whole range a bit complicated and messy.
Basically, you now know if you buy any iPhone 12, it will arrive with full access to 5G and the blisteringly fast download speeds it can provide.
Having put 5G through its paces, Express.co.uk has witnessed downloads in excess of 300Mbps, which is around six times faster than the average UK broadband. It’s clearly the future, but there is one thing to be aware of.
Although firms such as EE, Three, O2 and Vodafone continue to boast that their coverage is expanding, there are still vast swathes of the country that aren’t even close to getting 5G speeds. Of course, over the coming months and years, things will improve and more places will get a 5G signal but if you’re rushing to buy an iPhone 12 on launch day and are expecting blisteringly fast downloads – you might be left feeling a little let down.
There is something else to remember as not all contracts include 5G and you may find you need to pay a little extra each month to access it.
It’s great to see Apple now bringing this technology to its iPhones. There’s just a long way to go until we are all going to get the full benefit of this ultimate network technology.
5G is the future, so it’s great that iPhone 12 supports the mobile data standard out of the box
While iPhone rivals try to find new ways to neatly hide the front-facing camera, Apple is sticking to its guns with the controversial notch – which dips into the top of the screen to house the cameras, sensors and speaker.
This curved black box also includes the Face ID technology, which not only unlocks the screen in a flash but is secure enough to allow payments to be made via Apple Pay and unlock your banking apps.
We’re huge fans of Face ID as it’s a fast and efficient way of accessing the phone …but it currently has a problem. The recent public health crisis has triggered governments around the globe to mandate mask-wearing indoors and outdoors.
And unfortunately for Apple, it makes facial recognition much less appealing as it doesn’t work once you pop a covering over your nose and mouth. Of course, it’s not Apple’s fault – and the design of the iPhone 12 was likely finalised years before the spread of Covid-19 – but if you own an iPhone with Face ID and have tried to use it while out shopping for the day you might have noticed this frustration.
With the recent iPad Air redesign bringing a Touch ID fingerprint scanner to the power button, it would’ve been great to see the same system introduced to the iPhone – as well as Face ID, so that users have options.
iPhone 12 is available in a wide selection of colour options, unlike the
Price & Availability
The iPhone 12 is, of course, packed with plenty of extra features and all of this new technology comes at a price. At launch back in late 2020, Apple upped the cost of its new smartphone, with iPhone 12 now starting from £799 for the 64GB model and rising to £949 for the biggest 256GB model. That’s already more than iPhone 11 cost at launch – and you’re not getting a charging plug or headphones in the box, which were included in 2019.
Years on, things have changed a little bit. With the launch of the iPhone 13 in 2021, Apple kept around the iPhone 12 lineup with a price cut. When bought SIM-free from the Apple Store, you’ll be able to pick up an iPhone 12 for £679. That’s quite a saving on the price tag from just one year earlier.
Mobile networks have also dropped the iPhone 12 price following the launch of its successor, so there are some phenomenal deals to be found if you’re looking for a bargain upgrade!
iPhone 12 is available in a great selection of colours, including a new Purple
Upgrades like the iPhone 12 don’t come around every year. Compared with the iPhone 11, this is almost a completely different handset – it has a modern design with flat edges to match the latest MacBook and iPad models, it has an improved OLED screen with more vivid colours and deeper blacks, and supports 5G for speedy downloads when out-and-about.
What We Loved
- Great New Design
- Gorgeous OLED Screen
- Speedy A14 Bionic Processor
- 5G Data Speeds Are Faster Than Broadband
- Stronger Glass Saves iPhone 12 Form Drops
- Improved Camera
- Nice Selection Of Colours
- MagSafe Charging Is Nice Addition
What We Didn’t
- More Expensive At Launch
- Measly 64GB Storage
Coupled with the epic battery life, A14 Bionic – compatible with the all-new iOS 16 upgraded operating system set to launch in a few weeks, and improved low-light performance from the dual camera system, and you’ve got a seriously impressive smartphone …even in 2022.
The built-in 5G support means that – even if there are no upgraded cell masts in your local area quite yet – your new purchase will be future-proofed for years to come. Apple’s stronger Ceramic Shield design will keep your shiny new phone safe from bumps, scratches and drops. And the IP68 rating means that a spilled drink or drop in the toilet or sea won’t scupper your smartphone. Yes, Apple really pulled out all of the stops in 2021 with the iPhone 12.
The new MagSafe charger is sure to be a huge hit – as well as the flood of new magnetic attachments, cases, and accessories coming to the iPhone from Apple and other firms.
Our only real criticisms of the iPhone 12 are the measly 64GB entry-level storage and the fact that you’ll likely end up with a bigger Apple Store bill after you buy yourself a new USB-C charging plug and wired earbuds as these aren’t included in the box.
Other than that, this is a very hard phone to fault.
In fact, it’s very easy to recommend – so much so, that we’d probably suggest people buy this device over the more expensive iPhone 12 Pro. If you’ve held off buying a new smartphone in anticipation of this release you’ve made a wise choice and you won’t be disappointed.
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