It’s easy to dismiss the iPhone 12 as just 'more of the same', especially when you consider the new and compact iPhone 12 mini is also an option, and you can always go for the iPhone 13 series now. However, 5G networks are continuing to roll out across the globe, and the MagSafe addition is a useful addition to the iPhone arsenal – these things, combined with an improved design and screen, mean the iPhone 12 will become more useful the longer you own it. It's no longer the latest iPhone thanks to the iPhone 13, and it doesn’t come with a charger in the box; yes, there are environmental benefits to this, but you may need to factor buying a new charger into the cost of your new iPhone on top of the higher price.
Colorful OLED display
Future-proofed with 5G
MagSafe is intriguing
Cameras are similar to iPhone 11's
Battery life only okay
Hike in price over iPhone 11
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The iPhone 12 is a more expensive phone than 2019's iPhone 11, with Apple adding $100 / £100 to the price; it does, however, bring a number of new features that make for a more premium handset, including an OLED display, a slightly upgraded camera, a new design and – the big hitters – 5G and MagSafe connectivity.
It's also important to note this is just one member of the iPhone 12 family, which has a record four phones, including the iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max. Ideally, there's an iPhone 12 for anyone – but the phone for nearly everyone may just be the standard model, because - as our iPhone 12 review explains below - this packs the best parts of the range at a lower price than the Pro models.
The iPhone 12 is the oldest phone in the official Apple lineup even now that the iPhone 14 models are here, as it takes the place of a slightly more affordable option without the handful of extra bells and whistles in the new phone. This is typical of Apple, which has kept 2019's phones and discounted them as cheaper alternatives, so we expect the iPhone 12 to not just be viable but crucial to Apple's strategy going forward. The phone got more features with iOS 15 and we can count on it getting newer updates for years to come.
Starting with the iPhone 12 headliners, 5G brings faster speeds and more robust connectivity to the new iPhone, but as 5G networks aren't yet fully deployed around the world, coverage is still a bit patchy. When it works, it's incredibly fast – we easily managed 200Mbps on the go – but there are still too many places, even in big cities, where it's hard to get full coverage.
That said, given that many are holding onto their phones for three or four years nowadays, this is a feature that will only become more useful over time – the iPhone 12 can connect to a huge range of 5G frequencies too, meaning that if there’s a 5G signal where you are you should be able to connect to it, whether on sub-6 or mmWave networks.
The new (to iPhones) MagSafe connector on the rear of the iPhone 12 is a really interesting proposition – this magnetic connection tech not only enables you to attach things to your phone, such as a charger or a case, but can also tell what's been connected through a special chip.
MagSafe enables faster and more accurate charging, which is neat in itself – but the magnetic connection opens the door to a new range of accessories (like a wallet clip-on or camera mount) but, just as 5G will become more useful over time, we're pretty certain that the MagSafe accessory range is going to expand massively as third-party manufacturers get their hands on the technology.
That means we could see some cool clip-on accessories like games controllers, photo printers and huge extra batteries coming soon. If these MagSafe mounts turning your iPhone 12 into a proper camera are anything to go by, the sky's the limit.
The performance of the iPhone 12 has been upgraded once again: the A14 Bionic chipset is the most powerful in any smartphone, and the benchmarks bear that out as it annihilates the competition - and weirdly, doesn't get outperformed by the theoretically more powerful iPhone 12 Pro.
The decision to start with 64GB inside is stingy though, and you might start butting up against that barrier in the not-too-distant future if you like taking photos and videos at full resolution.
The iPhone 12 design has been tweaked, with squared-off edges that are highly reminiscent of the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 from yesteryear, and a new Ceramic Shield front that’s allegedly four times harder to shatter than the iPhone 11 (not that we were willing to drop-test our review sample).
The display has been upgraded too: it’s now an OLED screen, the same tech that’s used on the iPhone 12 Pro, and offers rich colors and deep blacks, as well as bringing true HDR to the mix for compatible content. It sounds like a small thing, but perhaps the slick 120Hz display tech would have been a boon here too; however, you are still getting a sharp and colorful viewing experience on the iPhone 12.
Cameras-wise, you're again getting the 12MP duo of the wide and ultra-wide cameras here. The former is even better in low-light on this model, and both can now be used with Night Mode. This feature can improve your snaps in a way that’s genuinely staggering; however, it's also available on the iPhone 11, and we would have liked to have seen it upgraded in 2020.
The video capabilities, including the ability to record in Dolby Vision in 4K, sound impressive, but for most this will be a rarely-used feature. That said, the output is strong to look at and something you'd be keen to share.
Battery life is only average on the new iPhone 12; with heavier use your phone should see you through most of a day – around 17-18 hours at a push. Lighter usage will see you easily sail through to the night, but it's not quite as good as 2019's model.
The iPhone 12 feels like it's packed with potential – but Apple is relying on others to make it a success to a large extent. We need to see wider deployment of 5G, and others need to get on board with MagSafe accessories quickly, to really make the new phone an appealing buy.
Those things aside, and while the upgrades to the display and design are nifty, the iPhone 12 doesn’t feel massively different to the iPhone 11– and doesn't feel like it outperforms its higher price tag in the same way that phone did. Still, despite all that it just about ranks among the best iPhones, though it's not quite one of the very best smartphones anymore.
iPhone 12: release date and price
- iPhone 12 is out now around the world
- Price starts at $699 / £679 / AU$1,199
- Price jumps to $849 / £829 /AU$1,449 for 256GB of storage
Dimensions: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4mm
Display size: 6.1-inch
Resolution: 1170 x 2532
Chipset: A14 Bionic
Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP
Front camera: 12MP
Pre-installed software: iOS 14
Charging: 20W wired, 15W wireless
The iPhone 12 release date was October 23, 2020, so the phone has been out a while but you're able to buy it directly from Apple as well as a variety of retailers. The phone's sibling - the iPhone 12 mini - wasn't available until a few months later, but it's still available.
The iPhone 12 price at launch started at $799 / £799 / AU$1,349, which is $100 / £70 / AU$150 more than the iPhone 11 range. That was likely due in part to the cost of adding in a 5G modem, but also because the iPhone 12 mini is grabbing that iPhone 11 price point, starting from $699 / £699 / AU$1,199.
But those prices have dropped now that the iPhone 13 has launched, meaning you can get an iPhone 12 starting at $699 / £679 / AU$1,199 for the 64GB model, and the new price for the 256GB version is $849 / £829 /AU$1,449.
Remember too that you’re only getting the 64GB version of the phone at that starting price, and that’s pretty stingy as a base level of storage in 2021. What will the phone cost in your market? We have the iPhone 12 prices for the US, UK and Australia below. See what Apple promo codes can help you cut back on the cost of a new iPhone.
In the US, you'll be able to get the device on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. Note that, in the US, the $799 price is only when you buy the phone SIM-free from those networks – if you want to just buy it unlocked, it’ll cost an extra $30.
Those in the UK are able to buy from EE, Vodafone, O2, Three and a variety of other networks. In Australia, Vodafone, Optus and Telstra all stock the iPhone 12.
- These are the best iPhone 12 deals right now
iPhone 12: design
- Revamped design that feels reminiscent of the iPhone 4
- New Ceramic Shield should ensure the phone is stronger
- IP68 water and dust resistant, so it's built to withstand water
What does ‘elevated’ mean to you? If one were to say, the design of something is elevated, would that mean the sides of it were now flat and more ‘industrial’-looking?
Well, if your answer is yes, then you already get the design ethos behind the new iPhone 12. While it’s similar in size and shape to 2019’s iPhone 11 (and actually a few millimeters shorter and thinner), the main difference is to those edges, which are a sharp 90-degree angle rather than the convex, curved sides of the previous iteration.
The iPhone 12 feels sharper to hold in the hand as a result, with the edges of the phone not resting as snugly in your palms, and we certainly wouldn't call it comfortable after a couple of weeks of using it.
If you’ve had iPhones for a fair few years you’ll instantly be reminded of the feeling of using an iPhone 4 or 5, both of which had similarly squared sides, but the larger phone does push it into the hands a touch more.
It’s an interesting design change from Apple, and one wonders if it’s been done to enable a stronger 5G signal (there is a small gap for the mmWave version in the US).
It’s also designed to make the rear of the phone twice as likely to survive a drop, even though it’s using the same glass as on the iPhone 11.
The front of the iPhone 12 features a new Ceramic Shield to further protect it from shattering, with Apple claiming it’s four times less likely to break in a drop, so Apple is going big on durability with this model.
A number of drop tests have emerged from around the web testing this new idea, and most show what you might expect: the front glass is stronger than the rear (which appears to crack first when dropped from around head height) and the front screen does indeed seem to be more durable.
We haven't performed any drop tests on our units - mostly because we need them to keep reviewing throughout the year - but it seems clear there's an improvement with the material on the front of the iPhone 12.
None of the above means you can now do without a case or screen protector, as the iPhone 12 isn’t claimed to be unbreakable or unscratchable. Four times less likely to shatter means it can still crack from the ‘right’ (or repeated) drop, and the front display can still get scratched over time if you place it with sharp objects in a pocket, as we found with the iPhone 12 Pro – so if you want to keep your iPhone safe and looking pristine, put a case and/or screen protector on it.
If you’re someone who likes the feel of a ‘naked’ phone, then you’re still going to be running the risk of breakages, albeit a reduced one.
The IP68 rating has been enhanced in 2020, allowing the iPhone 12 to be submerged down to six meters for 30 minutes before things start to get wet inside – more realistically, this means that general, day-to-day water damage is less likely to occur.
One of the most contentious changes with the iPhone 12 doesn’t revolve around the phone itself, but what comes with it. The charging block and EarPods have been omitted from the box, with Apple highlighting the environmental benefits of not cluttering the drawers of millions of people around the world with things they already have (as well as the shipping efficiencies resulting from the boxes being slimmer).
“As part of our efforts to reach our environmental goals, iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini do not include a power adapter or EarPods. Please use your current Apple power adapter and headphones or purchase these accessories separately.”
This is what’s listed on the new iPhone page - and it would make sense, save for the ‘current’ Apple power adapter.
As Apple is including a Lightning to USB-C cable, not the Lightning to USB-A connection (USB-A being that ‘stereotypical’ USB connection over the years) the ‘current’ adapter many have won’t be right, so you’ll need to use an old Lightning cable and charger if you buy the new iPhone 12 (which means slower charging) – and if this is your first iPhone, you’ll almost certainly need to pay the extra $19/£19/AU$29 for a charging block you can use.
iPhone 12: display
- A 6.1-inch display that is clear and crisp
- Better quality display than the iPhone 11
- Standard 60Hz refresh rate, unlike a lot of Android alternatives
The iPhone 12’s display is a big step forward for a phone of this price – while 2019 Apple decided that fancy, high-contrast OLED displays were only for those willing to shell out for the Pro, now the Super Retina XDR Display has been brought to the cheaper iPhone 12.
The difference is noticeable, especially when it comes to viewing photos, videos and movies encoded in HDR.
You might not see that much of a difference when just scrolling around the web, but, whether it’s looking at artistic photos on Twitter, sampling HDR content from iTunes or just improving the look of Netflix, the OLED upgrade brings a big jump in image quality.
Day to day it means you’ll have more moments where quality content will really pop out at you. For instance, while many people won’t have access to HDR Netflix on their phone (thanks to it being locked to the most expensive subscription tier) images even in ‘normal’ mode are vibrant, rich and (if you’re viewing the same nature videos we were) startling.
The iPhone 12 has 2532 x 1170 pixel resolution, and the display is sharp and clear and viewable at all angles. The bezels are thinner (although the squared design of the phone means they still look a little thick), and this allows the iPhone 12 to be a little shorter and narrower than 2019’s version, while retaining the 6.1-inch display.
While in the past it’s been easy to criticize Apple for not putting the best display technology in its phones, there’s very little to fault about the new iPhone 12’s screen.
Adding in 120Hz, a faster screen refresh rate that makes for more fluid scrolling on the new iPads, as well as on some Android flagships, would add a level of gloss to interacting with the new iPhone, but otherwise the sharpness, color reproduction and HDR levels look to be pretty good across the board.
According to our testing, the iPhone 12 has a slightly lower brightness than the iPhone 12 Pro - while they've got the same peak screen brightness when showing HDR content, the day-to-day view is slightly darker. Well, we rarely noticed much difference at all side by side, but being less bright will offer slightly better battery life over time, and we found everything visible even in bright sunlight.
The only real question we have here is whether you’ll want HDR on a phone screen – yes, the color reproduction and contrast ratios (the difference between the brightest and the darkest points) is excellent, but in HDR mode some detail can get lost in the ‘majesty’ of the display.
This notion is subjective, and minor in terms of how you’ll use the phone - but it’s worth being aware of if you’re enticed by the notion of HDR on a mobile.
iPhone 12: 5G vs MagSafe – which is the best new feature?
- Future-proof with 5G connectivity
- Although 5G isn't useful for everyone right now
- New MagSafe tech brings a variety of new accessories and uses
While we’re going to go into the more nuanced upgrades in the iPhone 12 compared to previous models later in this review, there are two key changes for 2020's model that will likely attract your attention.
The bad news is that neither are likely to feel hugely impressive just yet.
The headline feature for the iPhone 12 is that it now supports 5G, and with more compatibility to connect to the speedy 5G networks than many other phones, including the lightning-fast, but limited-range, mmW (millimeter wave) standard in the US... when they’re deployed.
The idea of being able to browse almost instantaneously, download faster and stream in higher quality sounds appealing - but the issue right now is that you can’t access 5G easily outside of large cities – and even then, it’s not complete coverage.
Also, 4G speeds on our current phones are still fast enough for most of us, thanks very much. The experience of streaming Netflix and Spotify is perfectly acceptable, and making things that much faster feels more like a curious luxury than a must-have feature right now. Need for speed? More of a ‘yeah, it’d be alright’ notion for motion.
It’s not easy to add 5G connectivity to a smartphone design – the components are more expensive, and space in the chassis is at a premium.
Dimensions: 146.7 x 71.5 x 7.4mm
Display size: 6.1-inch
Resolution: 1170 x 2532
Refresh rate: 60Hz
Pixel density: 460ppi
Chipset: A14 Bionic
Storage: 64GB / 128GB / 256GB
Rear cameras: 12MP + 12MP
Front camera: 12MP
But while the addition of 5G into the iPhone range might not feel entirely necessary right now, it’s not superfluous by any stretch of the imagination. Firstly, the 5G speeds you can reach when you do make a connection are mind-blowing… we clocked 200Mbps with ease on a train at one point (on the EE network in London, UK), and we downloaded a 110MB audiobook in half a minute, where a 4G connection was struggling at a much lower rate. It's not blindingly fast (around 30Mbps) but it's an improvement over 4G.
We also found that coverage of signal is improving – relying on 5G, we were able to send and receive messages on a portion of our regular train journey that previously was a blackspot for all data. Whether that’s thanks to networks increasing their 5G coverage, or the iPhone’s increased band sensitivity, we’re not sure – but the results were good.
If you think the 5G advantage is all about speed though, you’d be wrong. In one test we had one iPhone connected to 4G in central London, and tried to connect to Spotify to stream some music while on a run. Would it connect? Nope.
We switched to 5G on our iPhone 12, and were able to instantly connect and stream without issue. Now, that’s partly because there are fewer people on this nascent network, but also because 5G allows for multiple connections with less slowdown.
So you can imagine that (when it’s allowed) using 5G at a football game or packed concert will see an end to those occasions where you want to use your phone but data just won’t filter through.
But right now we’re still some way away from that – there needs to be a wider deployment of 5G around the world in order for the superfast dream to be truly realized.
iPhone 12: MagSafe - what is it?
- Snap-on magnetic tech
- Supports chargers and cases
While 5G might be the headline spec for many people looking at the iPhone 12, there’s something else added to 2020’s iPhone that actually has us a little more excited.
It’s MagSafe, the same magnetic, snap-on technology that Apple has previously used on MacBooks to connect the power adapter. Here, the magnets are arranged in a circle under the rear case of the iPhone, enabling the introduction of a range of new accessories that simply click onto the back of the iPhone 12 handsets.
These MagSafe accessories have a small chip inside them that the iPhone is able to read, so it can register what they’re supposed to do. While at launch this feature is limited to cases and a charger from Apple, these accessories are an upgrade on previous years, and when third parties get involved we could start seeing some real innovation with the iPhone that other brands, with less scale, just couldn’t match.